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'Your Honor' review: Bryan Cranston's TV return sunk  by weak premise

(L-R): Bryan Cranston as Michael Desiato and Hunter

(L-R): Bryan Cranston as Michael Desiato and Hunter Doohan as Adam Desiato in Showtime's "Your Honor."   Credit: SHOWTIME/Skip Bolen

SERIES "Your Honor"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Judge Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston), a well-regarded New Orleans justice, must face the decision of his life: His teen son, Adam (Hunter Doohan), has killed someone in a hit-and-run in the Lower Ninth Ward. Adam was there to lay a memorial at the place where his mom had been gunned down the year before. When dad learns that the kid killed is the son of NOLA's most feared crime boss, Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg), he decides to shield his son for fear that Baxter will then have Adam killed. Desiato has to get rid of the evidence, including the car, and for help turns to a friend (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who hires a local gang member, Kofi Jones (Lamar Johnson), to dump it. The web of lies grows.

Of note: Margo Martindale ("Mrs. America") joins in a later episode as Adam's grandmother; also Maura Tierney ("The Affair") as a prosecutor. This review is based on the first four episodes of this ten-parter created by Peter Moffat ("The Night Of").

MY SAY "Your Honor" is what could generously be called a slab of Swiss cheese. The cheese is fine but those holes — those damnable holes — will drive you nuts.

As example of the most obvious and damning one, we begin with Hole No. 1, which would be the premise itself: If Judge Desiato knows that the Baxter crime family is the most "vicious" in all of New Orleans, it would then stand to reason that every law enforcement agency with every conceivable acronym, from the ATF to the FBI, must know as well. Jimmy Baxter would therefore be so wired up he'd trip over the veritable cables every time he stepped outside his front door. He couldn't make a move on the kid. He wouldn't dare.

Here's Hole No. 2: What was Judge Desiato's wife doing in the Lower Ninth Ward in the first place? As a reminder, that's where she was killed in a robbery before the show opens, setting in motion (well) everything. Seems like a long way to go from her fancy neighborhood in the Garden District just to buy milk. Did she have another reason to be there? Surely. Probably. Who knows?

Enough. On the verge of a rant here, I haven't even gotten around to telling you what's good about "Your Honor" — that cheese itself. The cast is sprawling and diverse, the NOLA setting evocative, occasionally vivid. Cranston, one of the greats, almost if not quite finds a compelling way into this character. Less Walter White, more Hal Wilkerson of "Malcolm in the Middle," he's a bumbling dad, an unpracticed liar, and a thorough incompetent when it comes to disposing of evidence. A wonder he ever got through law school, much less made his way to the bench. But he does believe in truth and justice — just not for his son.

Then, there's the larger idea "Your Honor" wants to explore, itself compelling and actually important: Justice dispensed to African Americans is starkly different from that dispensed to privileged white Americans. That's also threaded through lots of scenes here, at least the best ones. For example, Adam can drive his rattletrap Volvo through the rough streets of the Lower Ninth Ward and draw scarcely a glance from the cops, but when Kofi drives the same car through those streets, the reaction and outcome are different.

Will "Your Honor" eventually morph into this vastly better idea? Will this become the show it should be instead of the one that a faulty premise has fated it to become?

Please do let me know because by the time it does, I'll be long gone. Too many holes. To paraphrase Lou Grant, you know what I hate about mediocre TV shows? I hate the holes.

BOTTOM LINE Dumb premise threatens to sink promising series.

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